BY SHERI TRUSTY
When U.S. Marine Mike Yegerlehner, a.k.a “Santa,” was looking for a local venue to host a celebration of the US Marine Corps’ 248th birthday, he turned to Julian Helsper, owner of The MacStack Tavern in Port Clinton and JJ’s Table and Bar in Marblehead.
The event, which was open to all veterans, was held at MacStack on Friday, Nov. 10.
“Mike called me and said he needed a space. He said he was coming to MacStack, and I said done,” Helsper said.
The gesture revealed much about mutual respect amongst the branches. Helsper is an Army National Guard veteran, but he opened his restaurant – and his wallet – to the Marines. Celebrating military servicemen is a tradition for Helsper.
“I’ve been doing a Veteran’s Day dinner at JJ’s for a number of years,” he said.
Helsper was inspired to honor his fellow servicemen after a bad experience with a local restaurant owner several years ago.
“I talked with an owner about having a free Veteran’s Day dinner, and he told me he likes offering reduced dinners to veterans because he makes a lot of money that day,” Helsper said. “I took that personally.”
When he opened JJ’s, Helsper began offering free dinners to veterans on Veterans Day. His meat and seafood vendor, Catanese Classics out of Cleveland, gave Helsper a significant discount on products, so together they honored vets with a free meal, even though it meant closing the day without a profit.
“We’re losing a lot of money doing this, but I love veterans,” Helsper said.
The Veterans Day celebration at MacStack was buoyed by hefty donations that allowed the restaurant to offer free drinks to the Marines. One of Helsper’s regular customers heard about the party and donated the initial $1,000 toward drinks.
“We started with $1,000, then it was down to $900, then we got more donations and it went up to $1,300 and then $1,600,” Yegerlehner said.
Among the Marines at the birthday celebration was Michael Gilbert, husband of Beacon President Ali Hermes. Gilbert and Hermes attended several local veteran events over the weekend. Also at the MacStack party was John Belcher, who said the Marines are unique among the branches.
“It’s about the Marine Corps history, brotherhood and camaraderie. It’s about all the stuff we share,” Belcher said. “I have friends I’ve known all my life, but my Marine friends are closer because we have each other’s backs. There’s a trust there.”
Malcolm Farrant, who was also among the MacStack revelers, was still a British Citizen when he joined the Marines in 1960.
“I decided when I came to America that I was going to fight for America,” he said. Farrant served in the Vietnam War.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff that I didn’t want to see. It probably affected me and my life, but it made me a stronger person,” he said. “I do not regret serving in the U.S. military.”
Farrant was grateful that Helsper and others found it important to honor veterans.
“This is a great event. When I came back from Vietnam, I was hated. I was never allowed to wear my uniform in public,” Farrant said. “Now, we are honored and accepted more.”